What are Forms?
A fundamental task for many Web sites is to gather information from their users. This is typically handled by an HTML form on a Web page. Forms provide a way for users to give information or data back to the Web site.
What is needed for Web based forms
User information submitted through a Web form must be handled by a software application at the Web site. At Cal Poly this can be accomplished by using a departmental Web server on which applications are allowed to run. Or, Cal Poly provides a method on the Central UNIX Web server for receiving information from a Web form then emailing that information to a campus address. The mail.form application can receive form input from a user and email it to a Cal Poly email address. ITS provides a tutorial for using the mail.form application.
Note: Cal Poly's Central UNIX Web server does not support PHP, ASP, or user created CGI scripting.
Designing effective forms
The following recommendations will help you design effective forms:
- Collect information in bits and pieces. Always use one form element to collect one piece of information. Creating forms with multiple one step instructions makes forms easier to use. The only exception is when you want to collect written text with multiple lines.
- Collect the minimum amount of information necessary for your form. This ensures that your forms are quick to fill out, easy to use, don't infringe on users privacy, and all the entry elements serve a practical purpose.
- Only use forms if it has a clear advantage over other methods such as email. If not, simply use a mailto:user@server link.
- Use restrictive controls (checkboxes, dropdown menus, radio buttons) for information that only has a few options. This will reduce the chance of user errors. However, make sure all user options are covered. It may be easier to use a text field if there are many options available.
- Make sure the user does not have to provide the same information twice.
- Test the form to ensure it works properly across all of the platforms of your audience.
Ensure that your forms are accessible
When developing an HTML form, you must make the form accessible to all users. You can find additional information on creating accessible web forms in the Web Accessibility section under Section 508 Indepth - Forms
As a best practice, include the following statement at the top of your form to assist users who may have difficulty completing your web based form:
If you have any problems completing this form, please contact the [department, unit, person responsible for the form] at [phone number] for assistance.